A rising tide of female voters

By Ammu Joseph


The headline looks encouraging:  Consistent increase in women candidates in LS polls since 1957. But it is misleading, as the very first paragraph clarifies:  the great increase reported is from three per cent in 1957 to nine per cent in 2019. That’s a six percent increase over six decades – one percent per decade!

Fortunately, however, the persistent, gaping gender gap among electoral candidates is in sharp contrast to the almost non-existent gender gap among voters during the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections.

Not only did women turn out in greater numbers than in previous elections , according to the available figures for the first four phases, but the gap between male and female voter turnout was only 0.3%, which is pretty much as good as none.



Voters queue to cast their vote at a polling station during the seventh phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in Kolkata. (Image: News18)


What’s more, the turnout of women reportedly exceeded that of men in at least nine states and Union Territories, with the highest recorded in Manipur at 84.16% and Meghalaya at 73.64%, followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Uttarakhand, Goa, Mizoram and Lakshadweep. Even in states where men outnumbered women among voters – Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka – there was an increase in the number of female voters, which narrowed the gap.

The trend is likely to have continued till the end of the election season.  According to a live update by NDTV, after polling ended on 19 May the Election Commission reported that of the 7.27 crore voters who took part in the 7th and final phase of this long drawn out election, 3.47 crore were women while 3,377 were persons belonging to third gender.

The rising number of female voters had been reported during recent Assembly elections as well.

Another story on the bridging of the historic turnout gap during the 2019 general election quotes Gilles Verniers, co-director at the Ashoka University’s Trivedi Centre for Political Data, on what he sees as the factors behind the increased voter turnout among women:

“First, greater access to information through widely accessible mediums such as mobile phones has helped reduce the gaps that existed between various segments of the electorate, including men and women. Second, …, political parties have dedicated greater portions of their manifestos to women, which might have encouraged them to cast their vote. And third, the Election Commission has made greater efforts to register women voters over the past decade.”

Interestingly, he does not mention the possible role of the “pink polling booths” that Election Commission officials credit with having encouraged more women to vote.


Update (21 May 2019):

Women voters outnumber men in 13 states and union territories
Read more at:


Toxic tweets

Amnesty India has initiated a crowd-sourced study on the abuse faced by Indian women politicians on Twitter, saying that online trolling aimed at threatening and silencing them must be considered a human rights violation.

A 2018 study covering 778 women journalists and politicians in the US and UK found that 7.1 percent of tweets sent to them between January and December 2017 were abusive or problematic. The journalists and politicians received abuse at similar rates, and women on both the right and the left of the political spectrum were targeted. The study revealed that women of colour were 34 percent more likely to be the targets of harassment than white women. Black women were targeted most of all: One in every 10 tweets sent to them was abusive or problematic, whereas for white women it was one in 15.

A rare high-powered political “womanel”

Senior journalist Sheela Bhatt, who now anchors the weekly show, ‘No Holds Barred’ on NewsX, in conversation with Vandita Mishra (National Opinion Editor, Indian Express), Nistula Hebbar (Political Editor, The Hindu) and Radhika Ramseshan (Consulting Editor, Business Standard) about the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the last week of the seven-phase poll process.

Who’s afraid of female politicians?


By Nisha Susan


In an interview many years ago, Anoop Kumar, writer and founder of Nalanda Academy said this to me: when people ask me why I vote for Mayawati I always say, ‘because I can.’ It took me a while to understand the brilliance of his phrase (which for the record, predated Obama). In that answer, Kumar was indicating to silly/serious interlocutors that it was a privilege he valued to have a Dalit woman politician in the forefront of UP politics. We often take for granted the handful of powerful women politicians in the landscape, as if they always were and always will be. But looking at the tiny numbers of women we have in government bodies where there is no reservation for them (unlike the gram panchayats) is a reminder of how much we should prize the ascent and staying power of everyone from Mayawati to Sushma Swaraj to Mamata Banerjee, whether or not we think they are good politicians.




If you have any doubts, take a look at the gender ratio for the 2019 elections. According to the Trivedi Centre for Political Data in Ashoka University, of the 8048 candidates only 711 are women, which adds up to 8.8%. That is an uptick of 1.2% from 2014. Three states and a couple of union territories have no women candidates at all. As Gilles Vernier from the Trivedi Centre tweeted, “NTK at 50%. AITC at 37.1% (40.5% for WB alone). BJP and INC neck to neck at 12.8% and 12.6%. 8 parties are doing better.” To be able to vote for a woman and to be able to vote for a woman from a marginalised community is still a rare opportunity in India.


Screenshot_20190516-204418 resized


Male politicians on the other hand seem to know explicitly and consciously the threat that women politicians pose to them. From violence to slander to legal strategies such as the Haryana  Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015 which set minimum educational qualifications for contesting in panchayat and urban government body elections, the ways and means to keep women out are ever multiplying. (One of my most baffling moments as a newspaper reading child was an editorial from a man who compared the entry of women in politics to the soiling of currency notes. Calling politics too dirty for women is a self-sustaining ecosystem.) But every election a small group of women persists despite the possibility of being washed away in the river of anxiety sweat from male politicians.

One intriguing example of the male politician’s sweating over women rivals came recently via the Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley (also see the bizarre pamphlet about Atishi). He tweeted ‘Behan Mayawati — she is firm on becoming a Prime Minister. Her governance, ethics and discourse stoops to an all-time low. Her personal attack today on the Prime Minister exposes her as unfit for public life.’ Any career politician or even amateur one would feel entitled, obliged even to say the second and third sentence here. (Never mind that Mayawati had clearly scored a hit at the body pompous with her sardonic statement that married women are afraid of Modi in case wife-abandoning is contagious.) It is the first sentence that intrigued me. ‘Behan Mayawati — she is firm on becoming a Prime Minister.’ I mean doesn’t every politician harbour at least an occasional dream of giving that Red Fort speech? But of course this was Jaitley issuing a dog-whistle to savarna voters and sexist voters, indicating that the Mayawati who dares to mock the PM today might become even more uppity tomorrow. Imagine the horror of Mayawati becoming PM so run and vote for the BJP, my friends, he was saying.

I also think that it is Jaitley himself, Jaitley personally feeling gobsmacked when confronted with the chutzpah of Mayawati after five years of everyone being sycophantic towards Modi after decades of being part of a political culture of respect = genuflection. Perhaps Mayawati has enough chutzpah to become PM, he has registered and it is a wave of panic that he must share with his brothers in arms. Just look at this one who doesn’t understand aukaat! She is firm on becoming a Prime Minister is his equivalent ofthe horror movie trope of the call is coming from inside the house. We are a long and unhappy distance from a decent gender and caste balance among those who get tickets from political parties. We are a long way off from a time when we can relax and take for granted our women politicians, Bahujan politicians, queer politicians. In the meanwhile we can only hope that the call keeps coming from inside the house and scaring (shall we be cheap and pun) the pants off male politicians.



More about the abysmal representation of women among candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections:

Till 7th phase, women only 10% of all candidates in poll fray: Report


A Dismal 7.31% Women Candidates In Phase Four Of The Elections


From BJP to SP, political parties remain fickle in their commitment to women’s representation


Indian politicians don’t walk the talk on women




Vidyasagar and women’s issues

By Manjira Majumdar


In the countdown to the final phase of the Lok Sabha polls, in Bengal, in the absence of any real focus on the concerns of ordinary citizens, it is ironical that an early 19th Century Bengali Hindu reformer, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who fought for women’s rights, is at the centre of a slugfest between two polarised parties, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) and the Bharatiya Janata BJP.

Vidyasagar’s bust was vandalised, allegedly by BJP supporters, during a road show by Amit Shah in North Kolkata on May 14, 2019. Both parties traded charges regarding the incident in front of the college named after Vidyasagar, who not only wrote the first Bengali primer but advocated widow remarriage and the abolition of polygamy among Kulin Brahmins, along with Raja Ram Mohun Roy. In the midst of the fracas an important fact comes into the limelight: the power of communication through a pamphlet, which can be considered the forerunner of today’s magazines.




An article by Abhijit Gupta in The Economic Times on May 16, 2019 explains why and how we should remember Vidyasagar:

“Of all his efforts, the institution of widow remarriage through an Act of 1856 still seems hard to wrap our heads around — how did one person manage to prevail against the combined might of the traditional Hindu samaj? In order to seek religious sanction for widow remarriage, Vidyasagar had to dig deep into scriptures, engage anti-reformist pundits in debate, and write two Bengali pamphlets that instantly became bestsellers.”

“The first, ‘Should widow remarriage be instituted’ came out in January 1855, and according to Vidyasagar’s elder brother Sambhuchandra, sold 2,000 copies in a week! The second pamphlet came out in October that year, and in between, there was a slew of counter-pamphlets by a galaxy of pundits of the day. The question of widow remarriage did not remain confined to Bengal.”




Buried among “burning” headlines about the political slugfest on the eve of the last phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was a report by Dwaipayan Ghosh 
in The Times of India on May 16, 2019 that highlighted a gender issue. It dwelt on the demand by trafficked women for proper rehabilitation. According to some of the survivors interviewed, no party manifesto mentions this important issue that has plagued the state bordering Bangladesh, Nepal and Burma for quite some time now. Bengal figures among the top states in India in the number of trafficking cases registered in 2016: 44 per cent of the total number. According to the report, none of the parties in the fray – Congress, TMC or BJP – has anything relating to trafficking in their manifestos. Only the Communist Party of India (CPI) has advocated a stringent law to curb it.


Web media pay more attention to gender in election coverage

By Manjira Majumdar

Despite the fact that there has been a marked rise in women candidates contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, at least in some parts of the country, the “mainstream” media has still not paid much attention to the political aspirations and expectations of women cutting across class, caste and communities.




The coverage given to a Marie-Antoinette type remark such as Asansol (Bengal) candidate Moon Moon Sen’s lament about her late bed tea on polling day (April 29) and, earlier, Hema Malini doing a farm girl routine with sickle in hand, will probably result in greater recall value among newspaper readers than more substantive issues concerning women and electoral politics.

However, the web media have done much better on this front by focusing on several aspects of the intersection between elections and gender, through news, analysis and opinion pieces. Here is a sampler for those who may have missed some of these important stories.

The CNN-Network 18 series has already been highlighted on this blog:  https://nwmigenderwatch.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/what-do-women-want/

Scroll.in has a series titled ‘Half the Vote’ spotlighting women’s issues within its overall coverage of the elections: The Election Fix:  https://scroll.in/tag/Half%20The%20Vote

The Wire’s multimedia presentation on women and politics is available here:  https://thewire.in/politics/watch-womens-participation-in-electoral-politics

 The News Minute has done a comprehensive series examining the elections through a gender lens. In the impressively wide range of gender-related election stories published by TNM, the four southern states have been particularly well-covered.  The TNM links below have been compiled in no particular order:

  1. In a first, voters in Kerala could choose transgender as gender identity
  2. Commit to gender equality: Women’s groups’ open letter to 2019 candidates
  3. Misgendered in her voter ID, trans woman voter from Kerala files complaint
  4. Lok Sabha 2019: Only 27 women to contest from Karnataka
  5. Meet the two women journalists traversing over 3000 km in south India this election
  6. Women will be given preference at TN polling booths, men will have to wait longer
  7. Is Karnataka’s feudal region ready to elect two women candidates?
  8. In Telangana, major parties still don’t think that women can be in the Assembly
  9. What the Congress and BJP manifestos offer women voters this election
  10. UDF’s K Sudhakaran expresses medieval views again, ad claims educating women a waste
  11. Meet Tamanna, the first trans woman contesting Andhra Assembly elections=
  12. Rejected 11 times before getting voter ID, B’luru trans woman to vote for first time
  13. ‘JD(S) leader said he will morph my photos’: Sumalatha Ambareesh alleges
  14. Pembilai Orumai complaint on Gomathi: Latest in the once powerful group’s internal rift
  15. ‘As a trans woman, my hope is on LDF’: Daya Gayathri, a first-time voter in Kerala
  16. Saritha S Nair cannot contest Lok Sabha polls: Returning officers reject nominations
  17. These tactics won’t scare the DMK: Kanimozhi after I-T searches at her house
  18. I-T checks at Kanimozhi’s residence over, officers return empty-handed
  19. The struggle is double for women in politics: Karur Cong candidate P Jothimani to TNM
  20. Vijay fan’s snub to AIADMK: Will AIADMK-BJP pay for alienating Thalapathy lovers?
  21. I am a novice but I am learning the ropes in managing elections: Sumalatha to TNM
  22. ‘I support UDF’s stand on Sabarimala’: In Conversation with UDF candidate Ramya Haridas
  23. BJP lies to the nation, Cong has no vision, elect strong regional parties: TRS leader Kavitha Kalvakuntla interview
  24. On the election trail with Kaliammal, the NTK candidate from Chennai-North
  25. Ground report: Sterlite a key issue as Kanimozhi and Tamilisai face off in Thoothukudi
  26. All you need to know about the Women’s Reservation Bill


This is, of course, not a comprehensive listing.  Please do add links to other online sources of gender-related coverage of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections 2019 in the comments section to make it more complete.

What do women want?

Of course, this perennial question (first asked and left unanswered by Sigmund Freud)  usually concerns sexual desire.  But a new series of articles recently initiated by CNN-News18 (and accessible here) sets out to find out what women want from their elected representatives, especially – in this election season – members of the Lok Sabha.

The rationale for the series is that conversations and analyses examining the various factors that are believed to impact election results tend to focus primarily on caste, money power and current issues such as unemployment and the agrarian crisis. As the introduction to the series points out, “In all of these factors, women appear as a footnote,” leaving many important questions about their attitudes, behaviour and priorities as voters unaddressed.

The latest article in the series focuses on women in Tamil Nadu and the concerns they are likely to have taken along to the polling booths on 18 April.